On paper, the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact has what it takes to be one of the best 8-inch tablets on the market. It’s stylish, light, waterproof and comes with nice add-ons like Sony’s Remote Play (if you’re a PS4 user). With all these things in the plus category, we’re going to take a look at whether or not its premium price tag is justified.
If you’ve been following Sony lately, then you won’t be surprised by just what a great product they’ve got with the Z3 Tablet Compact. Sony is throwing their hat in the 8-inch tablet ring at just the right time, with the current leader being Apple with its iPad Mini series.
When the iPad Mini 3 was launched, a few months ago, it didn’t exactly get rave reviews. In fact, I’d call the Mini 3 underwhelming and not worth the upgrade. This leaves room for another tablet to move up into the spotlight and the Compact, along with the Nexus 9, are vying to take over.
So with room to move up – did Sony release a winner? Like other devices, we’ve got some great features and some missteps. Le’ts dive in and find out where the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact stands.
Hardware – It’s Light, Waterproof and Thin
At 6.4mm, the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is one of the thinnest 8-inch tablets on the market. It is only 9.52 oz (or 270 grams). The slate is a little tall for my liking at 8.40” (or 213.4 mm), but it makes up for it with its narrow profile at 4.87” (or 123.6 mm).
This is impressive for any tablet, but throw in the fact that it is IP65/68-certified and you get an impressive device, since adding in the IP rating usually adds bulk and weight to any device. This Ingress rating will allow the slate to enjoy a bath for 30 minutes in a body of water no more than 1.5 meters. I should add that I’ve been playing around with the Xperia line-up and its waterproof feature for quite some time now.
The things that I’ve learned are salt water and hot water should make you a little nervous; an accidental dunk is no problem, but prolonged exposure seems to leave the tablet glitchy for a little longer than fresh water. Whenever you submerge any of these devices the display isn’t quite right for a few minutes.
The pressure of the water requires the touch function to re calibrate. Hot springs or hot baths heat the device up, and if you’re using the camera taking video you should expect to have to do multiple presses after you submerge it for a few minutes. Having said that, it’s awesome you have to option to take it for a dip!
In hand, the Z3 Tablet Compact reminds me of holding its smaller smartphone brother. Sony calls the design inspiration for the Xperia line “OmniBalance”, and if you’re a fan, you’re a big one. Unlike the Z3 Compact the Tablet does not come with a glass back, which I’m totally fine with. I like how the soft touch plastic feels in hand, and it is basically finger print-proof, which will appeal to anyone who likes to keep their tablet looking polished without actually having to get out a cloth.
The same soft plastic is found on the sides of the device, except for the corners, which are made of stainless steel. You’d be hard pressed to tell since they look virtually identical to the rest of the materials found on the tablet.
Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact Specifications
- Optional 3G and 4G LTE (Cat. 3, 150Mbps)
- 8″ 16M-color capacitive touchscreen Triluminos display, 1,920 x 1,200px resolution, 283ppi; X-Reality engine; shatter proof and scratch-resistant glass
- Android OS v4.4.4 KitKat with custom UI
- Quad-core 2.56GHz Krait 400 CPU, 3GB of RAM, Adreno 330 GPU; Qualcomm MSM8974AC Snapdragon 801 chipset
- IP68 certification, dust-tight and waterproof
- 8MP autofocus camera with Exmor RS sensor; Info-eye, AR effects
- 1080p video recording @ 30fps, continuous auto focus and stereo sound; live video streaming to Facebook
- 2.2MP front-facing camera, 1080p video recording
- 16/32GB of built-in storage; microSD card slot
- MHL-enabled micro USB port
- GPS receiver
- Standard 3.5 mm audio jack
- Front-facing stereo speakers
- Supports Sony’s Digital Noise Cancelling headphones
- 4,500mAh Li-Ion battery
Like we said before, on paper it has everything it need to become the best tablet on the market. The Z3 Tablet Compact has features that aren’t found on some of it’s other premium competitors.
Sony has done a good job on making this tablet as future-proof as it can. The 3GB of RAM is a great start and the microSD card slot lets you add storage, so a year down the road, if you want to upgrade, you can grab an SD card (which incidentally drop in price roughly every 6 months).
Since Sony is a TV maker, it makes sense for this device to come with MHL 3.0 and Miracast, which handle your TV-out with and without a cable. The final feature here is that all devices will eventually come with is that IP68 rating, making the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact waterproof.
Connectivity-wise, there are two different variations with either LTE/3G and Wi-Fi or just Wi-Fi on board. The LTE edition sports a nano SIM card slot and will get you Cat 4 LTE speed up to 150Mbps, HSDPA+ speed of 42.2Mbps and HSUPA speed of 5.76Mbps. Of course both versions will get you Bluetooth 4.0, GPS/A-GPS.
Display – Not as Good as we Hoped it Would Be
If you want to compete with Apple, the display is the one area you have to go all in on. And since you have to look at the tablet through the display, it’s not as if it’s a feature you can overlook (no pun intended).
The 8-inch display offers an IPS LCD panel, which comes sporting a resolution of 1200x1920p, giving it a very decent pixel density of 283ppi. Though this number is good compared to your average $199 tablet, it isn’t in the same league as what Apple has with it’s Retina Display on the Mini (2048×1536p, 326 ppi). The Z3 Tablet Compact is running Triluminos display technology, which enables LCD TFT displays to show a wider range of colors, making the colors richer and more vivid.
The X-Reality feature running on the display has also bumped the brightness up, making this one of the brightest on the market at 590 nits. To give you some perspective, the Mini 3 comes in at 312 nits, the Nexus 9 at 453 nits and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8 at 419 nits. The main reason why you’re after high pixel count is that you want the display to be bright and crisp, as well as lacking the ability to discern individual pixels. You can barely see them on the Z3 Compact Tablet, but they are there.
The display also offers you a high level of customization, some people have complained in the past on other Xperia products that the display temperature is, by default, too cold. X-Reality on all Xperia devices comes with the ability to adjust the color temperature and contrast of the display. X-Reality is a feature that you can disable or enable, giving the consumer all the freedom. If you don’t like where it’s sitting you can simply head to the settings to change it.
Processor and Performance – Game Away!
The Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact comes with one of Qualcomm’s finest offerings: the quad-core Snapdragon 801 MSM8974-AC running at up to 2.5GHz. It also comes running with a future-proofed 3GB of LPDDR3 RAM and an Adreno 330 GPU, which is all that and a bag of chips when it comes to gaming. The short story is that Sony’s newest tablet is a performance beast.
The majority of this review was done on an early prototype, which we had no clue about until we tried to download the benchmarks. Even a sample that was given to Sony’s PR agency here, 2 months ago, couldn’t stutter or slow down. When the official device showed up, yesterday, I downloaded Dead Trigger 2, Anomaly 2 and Need For Speed Most Wanted, which is a game notorious for taking a long time to load. The game auto starts and we were in control of the vehicle in 42 seconds. This isn’t too shabby – I’ve waited over a minute on some other devices.
The Xperia UI is fast and even loaded up with 15 open games and apps. New tasks were performed with out any stutters. Sony is so confident in the performance of their Z3 line-up that they are are offering Sony’s Remote Play. If you are a PS4 owner, this means that you’ll be able to stop playing your gaming on your TV and carry on right where you left off on your Xperia Tablet (or Smartphone).
|TABLET||SONY XPERIA Z3 TABLET COMPACT|
|Geekbench 3 (single/multi-core)||2748/979|
|GXFBench 2.7 T-Rex HD Offscreen||27.7fps|
|Basemark OS II||1125.33|
Gameplay – Go Ahead, Load it Up!
One benchmark we thought was particularly important to run is Gamebench. It takes actual game play and gives you averages on performance. The average frame-rate for Need For Speed Most Wanted was 52fps, the high was 60fps and average lowest was 43fps. Resources used were 33% CPU, 316MB of RAM and 87% GPU, which confirms that this is one graphically intensive game. Anomaly 2’s benchmark ran at high scores (981538). We prefer seeing numbers in the 7 digits, but this is pretty close.
Camera – Noisy and Painfully Below Average
I’m not one for taking pictures with a tablet, but every tourist destination I’m at, I inevitably see someone doing it. The Z3 Tablet Compact gives you an 8.1MP rear-facing camera with a 2.2-megapixel front-facing snapper for selfies and video calls. If you fancy yourself a film maker, the rear camera can shoot video in 1080p.
Sony’s camera does not have as many bells and whistles, unlike their smartphones, which are 4K capable. You do get picture in picture or Face In, as well as slow motion at 120fps and Multi Camera mode, where you can link up a few Xperia devices to show a single scene from a few perspectives. Sound photo records a few seconds of sound when you take a picture, which is a nice touch if you’re trying to add to the overall experience as you flip through your photos showing them to a friend. Al though every friend that I’ve done it to on my Xperia Z3 has given me the “are you serious” look when I’ve done it.
The one thing that is totally missing from this camera is a flash. The low-light performance on this camera isn’t great. Let’s face it, most smartphones which are aiming to replace the point-and-shoot segment even have trouble with this. Most photos do have some level of noise, but when I snapped a candle in a well room, with average lighting, this was the result. It looks like I’m taking it in very low light when in fact I was not.
The camera is what you expect from a tablet, it’s not great, but it will do in a pinch. On an over cast day in Taipei the detail in the photos was decent and the street art looks vibrant and true to life. The shutter speed won’t be winning and races, but I wouldn’t call it slow.
The 1080p video recording is smooth, didn’t have the same noise as the photos and there wasn’t really any artifacts in the outdoor and indoor decently-lit footage. The auto-focus wasn’t half bad and was decently quick. Sony has also included one of its better software options with Movie Editor, which automatically makes you short edited clips from your videos.
User Interface – Clean and Functional
Running the latest version of Android, KitKat 4.4.4, the Z3 Tablet Compact sports the Xperia UI, which remains clean and minimal like previous incarnations. It has a very ‘vanilla’ feeling, with a few tweaks that, for the most part, are unobtrusive and useful.
Sony has done a great job of offering an intuitive experience. It makes setting up your screens, and resizing widgets to go on them, as simple as the pinch gesture that lets you edit what’s going on. When editing your screens, you can easily get rid of pages and change the wallpaper and themes, of which there are many. What’s nice about themes is that they skin the entire UI, all the way into the settings menus.
In the ‘me too’ game of features that smartphone manufacturers are often sucked into, Sony has made sure they have the most useful ones; like double tap to wake up the display. Having said that, mine didn’t always work and I would have to tap it a few times to get the feature to engage.
When looking at how apps are arranged, Sony offers many ways to sort and display them. You can sort the apps manually, alphabetically, by the most used or most recently installed. The menu that swipes in from the left has never been my favorite way to organize my apps. When I’m in there, I’m just reminded of exactly how much of their own software Sony has pre-loaded on my device.
Some of it is great, like the album and walkman which are a step us from Google’s usual inclusion, but others are just bloatware. Good thing is you can uninstall many of them, and uninstall mode is quick and not hidden in some sub-menu in the settings. This allows for quick and easy tablet maintenance if your tablet starts to get bogged down with too many apps a year or so down the line.
The notification panel is separate from the quick toggles, which can be accessed first if you swipe down with two fingers. The toggles are customizable and you can choose between 17 different toggles, and have up to 12 of them visible at any one time.
When it comes to closing apps, the Z3 Tablet Compact uses the stock Android task manager which provides a list where apps can be swiped to the side to close them.
Sony has also Small Apps which are multitasking applications. Personally, I’ll use them occasionally, but apps like these never really fit into my standard app rotation. You can download more Small Apps off the Play Store. Sony has also provided you with an option to turn your favorite widgets into Small Apps, which is actually totally awesome! Just hit the Plus key at the top of the list and choose a widget.
Small Apps pop up like widget applications on your homescreen. You can move them around and resize them without having to lock into one screen, say… to use a calculator. You can also watch an Active Clip, look at Chrome Bookmarks, use the Browser, Calculator, Calendar, Gmail, Timer, Notes and Touch Lock. It’s easy to find them by clicking on the menu button – they are right there at the bottom.
Smart Connect isn’t new, but it is a detail that makes using your device more intuitive and personal. I have it set up so that every time I plug in my headset SoundCloud launches. You can also set actions for when you plug in the charger or turn off sound if its between selected night time hours. It can even turn on your WiFi if it detects through location that you’re at home or work. These little things really add to the experience, you can get apps to do these things, but Sony has had the forethought to include them for you.
Smart backlight control keeps the screen on when you are holding the tablet. If you aren’t, then it will go to sleep as per your normal sleep settings. It’s the little things they’ve included that make the software great, yet at the same time make it easy to over look since it’s all done very unobtrusively and elegantly.
So what don’t I like about the Software?
Well, the icons, when compared to, say the LG G3, seem a little outdated. You can always download a new theme to customize them, which Sony does offer, but they are, for the most part, paid themes. If you look at Huawei or Xiaomi, they offer an endless selection of themes to customize your phone… all for free. Seems a little penny pinching of Sony to make you pay a $1 to have a nicer skin, you can, of course, download free launchers on Google Play. Still, when you look at the ecosystem, it’s becoming more standard to include heavy customization options on Android. I mean, Sony is already paying someone to make these themes, do they really need to try to make back their salary?
The most intrusive software modification that Sony has made is the inclusion of quick launch to What’s Hot, a service that provides you with content and apps that Sony thinks are “Hot” and that you might like. This totally gets in the way of a clean fast swipe up to launch search. Swiping straight up does nothing, which is better then ending up in an app store that Sony has set up, with apps they think are hot in terms of apps and multimedia. It doesn’t only draw content from the Play Store but from Sony’s PlayStation store, as well.
I think making you swipe right instead of straight up on quick search has crossed the line especially since it’s shameless self promotion…not even done well.
Sound – Not Bad … For A Tablet.
When you waterproof a device, predictably everything gets sealed, but despite this premium add-on, the dual front-facing speakers aren’t bad. They don’t have any bass (not that any mobile device really does) and the audio is a little tiny. The thinness of the Z3 Compact gets in the way of it being able to mimic a more robust sound.
The Z3 Tablet Compact uses Sony’s 3D Surround Sound Technology, Clear Audio+ and xLoud Experience. The overall sound quality is good enough to share videos or if need be to play music for one or two people. When you’re playing games, the speakers are certainly loud enough, and when the engines rev up in NFS, the entire tablet shakes in your hands. When I first started gaming I jokingly thought this tablet is going to shake right out of my hands… clearly it wasn’t going to, but it was certainly more reverb than I’m used to in a device.
More in line with how I envision your tablet being used is with a pair of headphones, and if you happen to have a sepcial headset you’ll get Digital Noise Canceling. It’s great, I have a pair of Sony MDR-NC31EM and their predecessor, from the Z2. They both sound great. For in-ear buds, they really do a spectacular job of canceling noise with tons of bass.
The default video player of the tablet is robust and can play almost any format you throw at it. MP4, AVI, MKV, Xvid, WebM, and others are included, just to name a few. Native subtitle support is also available, which saves me from downloading MXPlayer, and it has a nicer interface to boot. One thing that I found rather surprising was that I was able to play 4K MP4 with no issues. The display might be 1080p, it took a few seconds to get going, but once it did, it was smooth sailing.
Battery Life Beast Anyone?
Sony claims the 4,500 mAh battery will get you 990 hours, or 41 days, of battery life in standby mode. That, or 15 hours of video playback. Manufacturers are generally a little generous when it comes to these predictions, but Sony has proved themselves on the Z3 and the Compact, and they certainly didn’t let us down with the tablet.
The Z3 Tablet Compact will get you just over 10:14 on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which is a combination of web surfing and video playback. We had the brightness set relatively low (20%), which is viewable in a well lit room, since the display on this tablet is extremely bright.
The only downside to this amazing battery life if that the tablet takes a very long time to charge; just about 5 hours. This is a pain if you’re in a rush for a flight… which is exactly what happened to me.
On the flight over to Beijing, I started my journey at 45% but I managed to watch 4.5 hours (or 5 TV shows) before I got the 10% low battery warning. I should have been writing this review… but nothing says real world testing like binge-watching TV on a plane.
Usability Segway and Confession…
This is the part where I have to make a small confession (and no, it’s not admitting what trashy TV I was indulging in). As much as I gave the display a hard time, during this media consumption session, the battery life was outstanding. The tablet never felt heavy in my hand and the display was totally fine. If I didn’t have to be a reviewer and put it side by side with every other tablet, I would think it’s decent. But as a reviewer, if you look, you can see pixels and that’s not ok when you’re trying to take the number one spot in the 8-inch tablet category.
Because You All Want to Know How it Stacks Up Against the iPad Mini
The Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact has a few things that the iPad Series doesn’t have and they are all features that I love having on a tablet, but your average Joe might not find necessary. A MicroSD card slot allows users the capability of expanding their storage, should they need it at any given time. With the iPad you have to pay for what you think you’re going to need. The cost of storage is dropping every 6 months. If you plan on keeping your tablet for a long time, it’s a lot more cost efficient to upgrade by MicroSD card.
It is a bit of a debate whether or not waterproof capabilities on a tablet is the way to go. On a smartphone, 100%, but some argue that tablets are in less danger of being dropped in water. A friend of mine argued that if you’re using the tablet at the pool or beach you should be doing something else. Personally, I’ve used tablets at the pool and beach, I like reading magazines on the larger screen, plus I’m not using up my smartphone battery.
The other scenario is if you’re caught in the rain and your bag gets soaked through. The future is waterproof, the only down side is that when you seal the device it’s more expensive to open it up, since you need to re-seal it again. But hopefully the fact that it’s waterproof will stop you from having to open it up in the first place.
Sony has added in magnetic charging to its Xperia line, since they’ve covered the ports with a seal, it is a bit of a pain to open them up all the time. Adding this feature is premium, though I do have to wonder why they haven’t gone with Wireless charging. (If you want an update on the standards race in Wireless charging, I actually just attended the Wireless Charging Forum here in Taipei.)
I actually have a whole post dedicated to Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact vs Apple iPad Mini 2 here if you want to check it out.
Conclusion – Light Weight Battery Life Beast
Sony has not disappointed. The Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is lightweight, durable, thin and has an exceptional battery life. It’s not cheap. It will cost you $499. This more than the iPad Mini 2, which we think is the Apple tablet to get if you’re going to go for an 8″ iOS device. What do you get for the extra money? Well, the extra features I just mentioned, MicroSD card support, magnetic charging and waterproof build quality.
The downside of this tablet is that the display comes without a high enough resolution and the camera is not great.
The thinness and processor, along with the expandable memory, future-proof this tablet. This is pretty much the only way you can justify the high price tag. If you have the money and are looking for something that you can take to the pool… this would be the tablet to get.
For now, I would keep an eye on the pricing. If it gets anywhere near the $350-$375 mark, buy without even thinking about it, like you’re 6 beers at 3am standing in line for a slice.
If you liked this review and are thinking of buying, we’ve got an Amazon link here that will update with the lowest available prices.